Aquila Theatre Company, the not-for-profit Off Broadway and touring company that blends American and British actors and director designers, is wooing Olympia Dukakis for an adaptation of the epic Greek trilogy, The Oresteia, in which the Academy Award winning actress would play the matricidal Clytemnestra.
Aquila artistic director Peter Meineck told Playbill On-Line Dukakis saw the troupe's current Comedy of Errors over the summer and she and Meineck had discussions about the company, its approach and the possibility of her playing Agamemnon's wife in the trio of 458 B.C. tragedies by Aeschylus.
"We've had several meetings and she is very excited about doing Clytemnestra for us," Meineck said, though details about where and when would have to be worked out.
The script of The Oresteia, focusing on the House of Atreus, would be drawn from Meineck's own translation of the three plays that make up the only extant cycle by the influential Greek playwright: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides.
Meineck said it was his hope in rehearsal that another version of the text would be shaped. The bloody and terrifying tragedies — about a royal family seeking revenge on itself in a time of war — would be a departure from recent Aquila shows, which have been comedies (including 2001's Much Ado About Nothing and the national tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which will play an engagement at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street come April 2003).
The New Vic booking is important, Meineck said, because it will show New York what the troupe can do on a larger stage than the Off-Broadway houses it has played in recent years.
"Our shows are so physical that they are sometimes too big for the spaces we play," Meineck admitted. "This is a new departure for Aquila. We feel we've been regarded as an Off Broadway company so far."
His hope for The Oresteia, he said, is perhaps a large non-traditional space, such as the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park, which has a playing area that spills toward the audience. He's floated the idea to The Public Theater, which operates the outdoor venue in summer.
Meineck said he and co-director Robert Richmond want the three-act, 3 1/2-hour staging to be an event worthy of a theatre festival. "Our ambition is to do for [Greek tragedy] what Cirque du Soleil does for circus...make it something that's an event, that has an epic scale to it," he said.
Greek tragedy doesn't have to be academic and "painful" for an audience, Meineck said: "They are horror stories, they should be terrifying, absolutely terrifying."
One of the major events of the plays is the murder of Agamemnon by wife Clytemnestra, who is seeking revenge for the murder/sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia.
"I told [Dukakis] it was my fantasy for her to play Clytemestra...the most misunderstood character in Greek drama," Meineck said. "It's such a difficult role and so powerful...you need someone in that role who can really pull it off."
He said he will continue to strive for a cast of international actors, a trademark of the company.
"The challenge will be to find an Agamemnon who can hold his own with Olympia," Meineck said. "Part of the fun is going to be finding those people. I think there will be Aquila regulars in the show, working the chorus and really making people see the chorus as a great strength in tragedy."
Aquila's Comedy of Errors, which has played Off-Broadway since summer, will ends its run at the Harold Clurman Theatre Nov. 17.
— By Kenneth Jones